Last Stage, The (1948)

This could very well be the first-ever Holocaust drama, about a group of resilient women who must attempt to survive during the last months of the war, startlingly shot on location at Auschwitz, with many cast and crew who survived the concentration camps. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,579

Dir. Wanda Jakubowska
1948 | Poland | Drama/History/War | 106 min | 1.37:1 | Polish, Russian, German & French
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Wanda Bartowna, Huguette Faget, Tatyana Guretskaya
Plot: Within hours of arriving at Auschwitz, Martha Weiss is selected to be an interpreter, while her entire family is killed. 
Awards: Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice); Nom. for Best Film from Any Source (BAFTAs)

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – WWII; Holocaust; Women-Focused; Human Resilience
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

As far as Holocaust films go, this could very well be the first ever produced, charting the path for what is now a long line of works tackling the ghastly if incredibly important subject matter over the decades. 

Ripe for rediscovery, The Last Stage is startling in its production context.  Made just three years after WWII, and partly shot on location at Auschwitz, where the director, Wanda Jakubowska, had been liberated from, the existence of this film seems unreal, to begin with.  Many of the cast and crew were, in fact, survivors of the concentration camps. 

Centering on a group of resilient women who run a makeshift hospital within Auschwitz, The Last Stage is a drama with some elements of the thriller as some of them secretly coordinate a front to resist the Nazis when the time is right. 

“It’s a crematorium where people are burned.  Right now, it’s those who came with you.”

It is the final phase of the war, and these women have been lucky enough to have survived this long.  Against near-impossible odds, they try to regain their strength and courage for a last hurrah.  At the same time, trainloads of Jews continue to arrive, only to be sent to their deaths without a moment’s hesitation. 

As far as Holocaust films are concerned, The Last Stage offers an insightful, ‘ground zero’ perspective of life in the camps, based on the personal experiences of the director, including scenes that show the Nazis as having human traits.  For instance, one of the SS officers plays with her dog as she sends hundreds to the gas chambers. 

The Last Stage might not be a particularly powerful work as compared to other more comprehensive or visceral modern-day Holocaust films like Schindler’s List (1993), The Pianist (2002) or Son of Saul (2015), but its unique women-focused story and the sheer context of its production lend it the importance that it so deserves. 

Grade: B+

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